United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO VACATE THE DECISION OF THE COMMISIONER AND REMAND THE CASE TO THE COMISSIONER FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS Docs. 1, 8, 9, 14, 16, 18
GERALD B. COHN, Magistrate Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
I. Procedural Background
On November 23, 2010, Joanne McKean ("Plaintiff") filed an application for Title II Social Security Disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), with a date last insured of June 30, 2014,  and a disability onset date of May 25, 2010. (Administrative Transcript (hereinafter, "Tr."), 21, 23, 136). After the claim was denied at the initial level of administrative review, the ALJ held a hearing on April 2, 2012. (Tr. 37-60). On May 22, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 18-36). On July 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council (Tr. 8-9), which the Appeals Council denied on September 25, 2013, thereby affirming the decision of the ALJ as the "final decision" of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-7).
On October 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), to appeal a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying social security benefits. (Doc. 1). On January 29, 2014, the Commissioner ("Defendant") filed an answer and an administrative transcript of proceedings. (Doc. 8, 9). On May 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed a brief in support of the appeal. (Doc. 14 ("Pl. Brief")). On May 28, 2014, Defendant filed a brief in response. (Doc. 16 ("Def. Brief")). On November 05, 2014, the Court referred this case to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. On November 26, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a statement indicating intent to waive submission of a reply brief. (Doc. 18).
II. Relevant Facts in the Record
Plaintiff was born on June 17, 1968, and thus was classified by the regulations as a younger person through the date of the ALJ decision rendered on May 22, 2012. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563 (c). Plaintiff completed the twelfth grade and got a business diploma from a non-accredited college. (Tr. 30, 42). Plaintiff's past relevant work includes working as a photographer and slitting machine operator. (Tr. 42, 55).
III. Legal Standards and Review of ALJ Decision
To receive disability or supplemental security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); accord 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant for disability benefits must show that he or she has a physical or mental impairment of such a severity that:
[H]e is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
The Commissioner uses a five-step evaluation process to determine if a person is eligible for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; accord Plummer, 186 F.3d at 428. If the Commissioner finds that a Plaintiff is disabled or not disabled at any point in the sequence, review does not proceed. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Before moving on to step four in this process, the ALJ must also determine Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
The disability determination involves shifting burdens of proof. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. See Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner must show at step five that jobs exist in the national economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age, education, and work experience can perform. Id. The ultimate burden of proving disability within the meaning of the Act lies with the plaintiff. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a).
When reviewing the Commissioner's decision denying a claim for disability benefits, the Court must uphold the findings of the Commissioner so long as those findings are supported by substantial evidence. See Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence is a deferential standard of review. See Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564 (1988) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Substantial evidence requires only more than a mere scintilla' of evidence, Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995)), and may be less than a preponderance. Jones, 364 F.3d at 503. If a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to ...